Can you imagine people waiting in a line that stretched around the block for any other government service? The DMV? The City Clerk? The Secretary of State?
But inconvenience is pretty standard when it comes to services for the poor, says Dan Lesser, of the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law.
“There’s a world of different between how the average person is treated at the DMV and how someone whose applying for assistance is treated at the local public aid office,” said Lesser.
“We heard that a lot when the economy went bad and a lot of people applied for food stamps for the first time,” he said. “They were definitely not used to get the kind of treatment that they got when they went to those local offices.”
It makes you wonder: Is there simply a belief that poor people have nowhere better to be? Why do the providers of essential services treat them as if their time is worthless?
Most of the problem lies with the abysmal funding levels for human services, says Lesser. But the majority of people who are on some kind of public assistance are working, he says, and the layers of red tape hurts them financially.
It sounds like adding insult to injury. This reminds me of a faculty member I know who has students go through the process of applying for public aid without giving them any information. The students tend to report that the process is a lot harder than you might think.
But, there could be another issue at work as well. Take the example in this blog post about a line for applying for low-income housing. There is an issue long before getting into line: the Chicago area, not just the city, is lacking in affordable housing. I’ve seen numbers suggesting the region is at least 50,000 affordable units short. Hence, the wait lists for public or affordable housing are really long. Interest in joining a waiting list or getting a shot a new opportunity is high.